Saturday, July 9, 2011
Do Britain’s Strict Press Laws Actually Encourage Bad Behavior?
July 8, 2011
And just like that, the News of the World is gone. Never mind that Rupert Murdoch’s racy tabloid was the best-selling and most profitable weekly in Britain, with a circulation of some 2.6 million. After the paper was caught hacking—repeatedly, and flagrantly—into the phones of everyone from the royals to a child murder victim, and once advertisers started fleeing en masse, a death sentence was the only option left.
The NOTW meltdown has led to lots of focus on the bizarre, hyper-aggressive world of Britain’s red-top tabloids—and, for that matter, Britain’s broadsheets, which often aren’t all that better behaved. While NOTW may have been particularly egregious, odds are decent other papers could have scandals lurking. (As Nick Davies, who broke open the phone-hacking story, noted in his 2009 book Flat-Earth News, more than a dozen British papers have hired private investigators to suss out confidential personal info, often through legally dubious means.) But even setting aside potential lawbreaking, many of Britain’s papers were famous for their reckless pursuit of stories at any cost, their thin regard for accuracy, their adventures in outright libel. No wonder American journalists have been feeling awfully smug this week.
So how did the British press get so irresponsible—especially compared to its (relatively) staid and sober cousins across the Atlantic? It’s especially curious when you consider that U.S. newspapers enjoy sweeping First Amendment freedoms, while the British press has to operate under some of the strictest defamation and libel laws on the planet. Is it possible that Britain’s stricter press laws actually encourage bad behavior?
Posted by Aristides Hatzis at 11:26 AM